Ever want to talk about something and not know where to start?
That’s how I react every time I try to explain my interest in anime and manga. For one thing, I started watching/reading these now-popular illustrated story forms back when you usually had to start telling someone about them by explaining what they were. No one could even agree what to call them.
Back in the day (I’m talking about the eighties here), anime was often called “Japanese animation” or even “Japamation.” Anime was the easier form to find because translation didn’t offer so many challenges. I remember going to a Lunacon in 1989 (my first SF convention; maybe I’ll talk about that some other time) and stumbling on the anime room. There to one side of the projection screen sat a young man on a stool, freely translating from the Japanese as the story unfolded.
Translations were also made “by fans for fans” to be traded, not sold. Lots of my early exposure to anime was in this medium, via gifts from my well-connected friend Diana Bringardner. The translations weren’t always great, but there wasn’t the censorship that came up later when the first large scale attempts were made to issue anime for “Western” audiences.
Anime and manga are not cartoons and comic books, even if they superficially resemble each other. They’re both illustrated stories but, because in Japan illustrated stories are not automatically considered “children’s fare,” the content (oddly enough, even for the “children’s fare”) is much more complex and sophisticated than its American counterparts.
Like most American kids of my generation, my exposure to animation was either Disney films or short television cartoons. I loved animation (especially for fairytales, fantasy, and the like) because there were no clumsy costumes or bad sets to pull me out of the story. (Gee, that dragon is really a man in a rubber suit).
Still, even back then, I tasted hints that there was something richer and more complex out there, stories where the “reset” button wasn’t pushed at the end of each episode. (I mean, did Scooby Doo and Shaggy ever learn not to go off by themselves to look for the monster?)
Those hints came in the form of two animated shows that occasionally appeared on the mysterious and hard to get “UHF” channel on our TV: Kimba the White Lion and Speed Racer. No surprise to anyone, but Kimba was the one I preferred.
When I went off to college, I pretty much fell out of touch with any animation. I didn’t have a T.V. and personal computers were a long way into the future. In the mid-eighties, when I got my own place, I had access to a T.V. again. I discovered that American animation was now showing fantasy (which, if it was on the air when I was a kid, I missed). I watched He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and fell in love with the first season of Thundercats.
However, both these series had the “reset” button problem. Characters only learned a minimum from their experiences. In fact, continuity did not bear too close an examination. Characters changed at the whim of some “suit.” For example, I hated when Wiley-Kat and Wiley-Kit in Thundercats went from being rather daring tricksters to “cute kids always in trouble.”
After grad-school, I went off to Virginia to teach at Lynchburg College. There, at last, I discovered that anime was becoming more common. A friend brought over tapes of Urusei Yatsura and Robotech. In the early nineties, I met the aforementioned Diana Bringardner, who gave me Ranma ½ and a host of other offerings.
I was hooked. Here were animated stories with more consistency. Here were stories with consequences, where a character in danger sometimes died and injuries didn’t vanish a few seconds later. As a series unfolded, I would enthusiastically speculate on character background and motivation. More often than not, even in the lighter “kid-stuff” offerings, I would find those speculations rewarded.
I’ve stayed hooked. Now that both anime and manga are more widely available (even in my local library), I read and watch fairly widely. What’s on my shelf now? Full Metal Alchemist and Negima! in manga. I’m watching Sorcerer Hunters when I ride my exercise bike.
Speaking of which… Time for me to go ride. I hope you’ll join me when I periodically discuss some of my anime and manga favorites – or not favorites, even – on this page.
P.S. I’ll be in Tucson, Arizona this weekend for the Festival of the Book. I hope if you’re there, too, you’ll come and say “hi.”